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Friday 29 November 2013

Reattaching the Drawband to the Mainspring on a Portable Typewriter: The Layman's Rudimentary Way

I have only just found a comment on a post from the distant past, from someone called Aidan, asking, “The carriage advance (? - not my question mark, but Aidan’s) string at the back of the typewriter is broken - do you know where I could find a photo as to how this attaches to the roller mechanism [presumably Aidan means the mainspring]?).
Aidan’s “broken carriage advance string” is, of course, the often troublesome old drawband. Sometimes metal, sometimes fabric, sometimes cat gut - but always a damned bother to fix!
With four hands and a locking device, it's easy to re-attach the drawband to the mainspring on an old Underwood. It screws on. But "getting at" the mainspring to re-set it is a real test of endurance.
From considerable experience, I would estimate that at least 97.5 per cent of the problems with so-called “broken typewriters” are no more than worn and snapped drawbands. In very, very few cases has the mainspring broken.
Anyway, to aid Aidan, I have quickly rushed downstairs and snapped off some photographs, to guide him in the process by which a drawband can be reattached on a portable typewriter. My reply to his comment was all too simplistic and I thought I'd better do the right thing by him and try to produce some images.
The result of me holding a camera in one hand and a drawband in the other will offer only a very basic outline, but it may well suffice for those like Aidan who want to tackle this tedious yet "do-able" task. The general idea is here, anyway. I must add that I would far prefer to have two pairs of hands when undertaking this operation.
In Aidan’s case, the portable typewriter is a Torpedo, but in order to demonstrate my layman’s rudimentary (yet usually highly efficient) method of doing this job, I grabbed a stripped down Olivetti Lettera 22. This might be a bit unfair, as what I am showing here is easy to see, to get at and to do – more often than not, the mainsprings on portables are almost impossibly positioned and most difficult to get at and re-wind. But, dear beginner, try hard to avoid the temptation to take the mainspring off the mainframe. Fixing and reattaching a mainspring is one hellva lot harder than simply replacing a drawband.
If a drawband has snapped in half, which is often the case, it may be necessary to replace it altogether. Given you can’t wander down to the nearest typewriter shop and buy a replacement drawband any longer (boo-hoo) I use fishing line, and I find it generally works for me.
Always allow some leeway for the mainspring. Reattaching a broken drawband, using what remains of the original drawband, can lead to problems if the length is not sufficient to ensure the mainspring can properly pull back a fully extended carriage.
OK, my method starts from right to left, which may not be technically the right way to go about it, but I find it easier, especially when working without assistance (as we most often must do).
I first find where the drawband attaches to the right end of the carriage. On almost all Western-language typewriters, the mainspring is on the left under the carriage or at the back of the mainframe, and the drawband attaches to the right end of the carriage. On many older typewriters, the drawband doesn’t simply hook on (as here), but the right end has a metal clip attached which is actually screwed on to the carriage.
Next, get the drawband through to the left under the carriage. This can be tricky. Typewriter technicians had a special tool, which looks like a very long, thin screwdriver with a conventional screwdriver handle, but which has a V-shaped end through which the left end of the drawband can be gripped while pushing the long, thin metal part through under the carriage. I use a wooden meat skewer, slicing the end with a blade and holding the end of the drawband in place that way. You need something of the length of a skewer.
It is super important to ensure that, when feeding the drawband through from the right under the carriage, the drawband is not impended by anything, or the drawband does not impede any of the mechanism under the carriage. When you get it through to the left, check it to make sure it moves about freely under the carriage.
Finally comes the really hard part. The mainspring must be re-set BEFORE reattaching the drawband. Some may well argue, with sound reason, that you should do it the other way around  - that is, re-set the mainspring first, then attach the drawband to the mainspring, then feed the drawband through under the carriage from the left, then attach the drawband to the carriage. Yep, makes sense. But try doing that on your own, maintaining full tension on the drawband all the way. Not so easy, eh? 
Nonetheless, the major issue that I find is getting the drawband attached to the mainspring, which is when you really do need four hands. It may indeed seem easier to do that before re-setting the mainspring, but then how do you re-wind the mainspring with the drawband attached? And then, as I say, get it under the carriage without releasing the mainspring?
Generally the mainspring winds in a clockwise direction, so that it can pull back the drawband (and with it the carriage) in an anti-clockwise direction. Turn the mainspring a couple of rotations, let it go, and ensure that it “zings” back, not just “limps” back. If it “limps” back, you’re winding it the wrong way. Go for “zing”. But be VERY careful not to get your fingertips caught if, for some reason, your grip on the mainspring slips and the thing “zings” back – it is BLOODY PAINFUL!!!
OK, so doing it my layman’s rudimentary two-handed way, one hand is employed firmly holding the re-set mainspring in place at full tension (and for goodness sake don’t overdo it and break the spring!), and the other hand is employed to re-attach the drawband to the mainspring. Can be tricky! Often you can be concentrating on the drawband, getting it into the hole on the mainspring, and the mainspring snaps back, ripping skin off your fingers.
But let’s assume you succeed to this point. Gently release your grip on the mainspring so that it slowly winds on the drawband to full tension. Now your typewriter is right to use!
* If I can find another set of hands, or two, I might video this process.


Richard P said...

Hey, that skewer is a clever tool. I've taken a length of a clotheshanger and bent a hook on the end to do the job, but the string may have to be tied onto the hook, which is a pain.

Robert Messenger said...

Thanks Richard. Yes, I too have tried the clotheshanger wire trick, and have taped the drawband on to the end, but it often comes unstuck under the carriage. It's a blow when the wire emerges sans drawband!!!

John said...

I toolliked the skewer trick.
That was avery nice lucid explanation Robert, one which any beginner could follow. You are correct in saying the Olivetti is one of the easiest to demonstrate the method but once you have done one the idea will stick as the principle is the same. i just hope no one asked you to fit a drawband on a Barlock 22!

Robert Messenger said...

Thank you John, that's much appreciated.

Rob Bowker said...

That's really useful, thanks. I have tried both ways but find attaching the string to the motor first is a lot easier, if only because you can wind up the spring in advance. Then, using the hooked end of an old bike spoke, I pull the string through and attach it to the carriage lug. Pulling, rather than pushing, the string through seems more natural somehow and pre-threading the spoke under the carriage means I can avoid any obstacles in the first place. I wonder if I find it easier this way because I'm left handed? What I always find the most difficult is putting the right sized stopper knot on the spring-end of the string. Too small and it pops out, to big and it won't shove in. Being able to do this bit without the spring under tension is probably why I favour it. Well done on getting those photos done one-handed!

Richard P said...

By the way, not every typewriter requires you to deal with a spring under tension while doing this job. Sometimes there's an easy way to wind up the spring after attaching the cord, by turning a screw or pushing the teeth of a ratchet (as on noiseless portables). Sometimes it can be done by turning the spring drum while slipping the cord off the perimeter of the drum during each turn, then slipping it back on. (A bit easier done than described!)

Bill M said...

I like that skewer idea. I have never tried anything but a hook yet the skewer s something everyone should be able to get and use.

I have tried the anchor point to drum method and working from the drum to the anchor and find generally when I do not need to tie a draw string through a hole it works the easiest.

Thank you for the detailed post. I am sure many of us will refer to it as we repair our typewriters.

If I need to tie a knot that goes in a hole like my Montana or Noisless #7 I need to work from the drum to the anchor point. I use a very small machinist's clamp to hold the drum when I pull tension on it while I anchor the string.

Unknown said...

I'm hoping someone sees this and can help. I have a Kmart 1960s deluxe 100 that appears to be in mint condition. However when typing the carriage does not advance. It releases and with very slight pressure will advance, but not on it's own.

Ali B said...

I was given a Brother 760TR typewriter and the string which advances the carriage seems to have come loose. I'm looking for a repairer in Penrith (ish) NSW who is willing to spare an hour to teach me basic maintenance and fix it (I can pay for their time) or someone who can give me a pic/video to help me. I'm really reluctant to remove anything but the outer casing without knowing what I'm doing. Many thanks in advance to anyone who can help. Self Sufficiency

Robert Messenger said...

Try Terry Cooksley in Blacktown. (02) 9628 0493.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this post!
I am trying to repair an Empire Aristocrat and at first I thought it was just a matter of reattaching the drawband but it seems that the spring may have snapped. If I manage to repair that issue I will be referring to this post when reattaching the drawband.

Any advice on repairing/replacing the mainspring/clockwork motor?

You can see my problem here:

Con-brain said...

Hi thanks for the help, I am repairing an old Remington portable and when I re-attach the drawband to the mainspring and try to advance the carriage, the mainspring won't turn to pull it back. I tried re-setting the mainspring and everything seemed to work on it.but I was just wondering if any of you would have an input.

Robert Messenger said...

It seems possible the mainspring has come unattached inside its drum. Before attaching the drawband, try turning the spring both ways, the get an idea of what life is still in it. You will soon see whether you have reset it the right way, and whether there is enough "zing" still in it to pull the carriage. With the drawband, also allow for some traction, so that the where the band attaches is down below the level of the escapement rack.

Mary E said...

I am eternally grateful to you for this information. We had a typewriter with a broken drawband that appeared hopeless, but I found this post and was able to successfully re-attach the drawband.

I documented my experience online in the hopes it will help someone else with a similar problem.

Ghadi El Khoury said...

I'm having a bit of trouble fixing my 1947 Olivetti M40/3, any help you can provide is greatly appreciated, thank you!

Here's the reddit link that should explain what's going on

Unknown said...

Thank you so much. Fixed my typewriter with the help of this!

Ash said...

Thank you, now I know what's wrong with my typewriter! My mainspring doesn't seem to wind - it is an Olympia SM2 - is there a secret mechanism or could my mainspring be broken? It seems there is a distinct lack of zing from either direction...

Unknown said...

So it looks like the drawband on my daughter's 1955 smith corona silent super has slid off the mainspring, it doesn't appear to be broken but is wrapped around the base. It looks like cat gut or super old equivalent of fishing twine. Can I risk stretching it back around the mainspring? If so which does the mainspring rotate or just the band? Is the band supposed to go around the bottom back of the black bracket holding the mainspring or is that part of the slippage that it went around the back of the bracket? I will try to add pictures

TonysVision said...

Thank you Robert for this post, and thank you Richard for the tip on the ratchet on Noiseless portables. When the typewriter I was working on had a weak carriage advance, of course the first thing I did was to remove the motor. Sproing and tangle resulted. Many attempts to wind the cord back on to the tightly wound up spring, and slip it over the pulley failed. Finally I wound just a light tension on the spring which made it possible to get the cord around the spool and the pulley and held there while I turned the typer right side up and with the carriage full left patiently pushed the ratchet wheel a few notches at a time. Bingo - another functioning typewriter thanks to the wonders of the Typosphere!